There are plenty of books about the weapons of the Second World War, so it is nice to see one that takes a different approach to most. The emphasis here is on comparisons between weapons that were in use at the same time or in particular battles. The comparisons are done using colourful illustrations that make it easier to compare the key features of the weapons. The book covers an impressively wide range of weapons, from the largest battleships and carriers to hand guns and just about every major weapon system between. The book is organised into five categories - aircraft, tanks, artillery, ships and U-boats and small arms, and then subdivided by weapon type and sometimes by battle and sometimes by period. In the aircraft section there are thus sections on early war fighters, fighters of the Battle of Britain, early Pacific fighters, night fighters, and late war fighters. There are also diagrams comparing aircraft formations, cargo capacity and the capacity of various types of airborne radar amongst others.
In most cases the scales use to compare values run from the slowest, shortest ranged or lightest to the quickest or longest ranged or heaviest, rather than starting at zero, which does meant that some fairly minor differences in performance look rather exaggerated (U-boat speed is a good example of this - the slowest boat at 8 knots underwater looks dramatically slower than the 10 knot boat above). I can understand why this decision has been made - it means that the entire diagram is relevant, whereas if the scale starts at zero then large parts of the diagram become irrelevant, but it is something that the reader needs to be aware of when drawing conclusions about different weapons.
There are some flaws with the implementation. It would have been useful to include national flags in the diagrams - it isn't always clear just from the name of a weapon which country it belonged to, especially when several nations used date-based model systems or other numerical codes. This is especially the case with artillery where more than one country used a calibre and year system of identifying weapons. One or two of the charts aren't that clear - aircraft range in particular. Most of the illustrations are consistent with each other, but there is at least one case where this isn’t the case (there are a series of weight charts with equipment on pillars - the heavier the tank or gun the lower the pillar apart from on self-propelled guns where this is reversed). In the section on fighter aircraft there is an odd choice of variants, with the cannon-armed Spitfire IB included despite being produced in tiny numbers.
These are fairly minor quibbles. In most cases the weapons being compared are well chosen, the diagrams are clear and the supporting text accurate. Some less familiar weapon types are covered - armoured personnel carriers, armoured cars and super guns all feature along with the more familiar tanks, warships, aircraft, artillery and hand guns. Overall this is a well presented and informative guide to the relative performance of most of the major weapons systems of the Second World War.
1 - Air Power
2 - Armoured Fighting Vehicles
3 - Artillery and Missiles
4 - Naval Power
5 - Small Arms
Author: Michael E. Haskew